On December 14th something very admirable happened. On that day we buried my younger brother Tom Woodroof. He lived most of his life in Shelbyville. He was autistic. During his years in Shelbyville he attached himself to the fire department of that middle Tennessee town.
Every day he would go by to see the firemen. They were so kind to him, allowing him, in his somewhat imaginary world, to be one of them. Tom's mother would often send hot rolls by him to the firemen. When he was moved from Shelbyville to Searcy, Ark., seven years ago, the Shelbyville Fire Department made him an honorary member -- badge and all.
Upon his death December 10, I called the Shelbyville Fire Department to tell them of his death. They said, "We already know about it, and we've notified all the force."
At the funeral one fireman in ordinary clothes came by early to pay his respects. I thanked him for coming, thinking that was all of it. But, in about 15 minutes in walked the retired fire Chief (Bishop Sullivan), the present fire Chief and about 10 of the firemen all dressed in their official uniforms to pay their respects to their little autistic friend (Tom weighed 65 pounds at death).
Also, in the family's hurried preparations, we had forgotten to choose pallbearers. The fire Chief asked if we would like them to serve as pallbearers! We were overwhelmed. Tom would have loved that. So they all came forward in their uniforms and stood at attention in front of the casket as the guests arrived. Then they took their seats on the front row.
At the conclusion of the service as the casket was being transferred to the hearse, the firemen followed, and I followed them. As I arrived at the door outside, there was in front of me -- in addition to the usual police car -- a city fire truck and three other official fire department vehicles to lead us to the cemetery!
All along the route to the cemetery, cars pulled over to the curb as the police car and the four official fire department vehicles led the way to Tom's burial. The people along the way must have thought the governor of Tennessee had died!
Someone said to the firemen, "I don't think you can get that fire truck into the cemetery." The firemen replied, "We can do it." And they did. All of the firemen got out at the grave site as the six of them carried Tom's body to the grave. Then the six joined the others and they all stood at attention during the graveside ceremony. Their presence so touched us we all wept.
Firemen are a special breed; a cut above most of us humans in the performance of their duty. Everyone needs to know the extra mile to which firemen all across the country go in serving our nation.
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